Winter Time at an
Anchorage Drive-In Theater

by Michael R Dougherty

Sundowner Drive-In Theater

Sundowner Drive-In Theater

What are your memories of going to one of the drive-in theaters in Anchorage during the winter months?

One of the good things about that time of year was that it was dark enough outside to see the movie on the screen. In the Summer months, it was difficult to see the movie because it was still light outside.

In the winter, you had to roll down your driver's side window, grab the speaker and hang it off your window, so you could hear the movie. Of course, that meant cold air and maybe even snow coming into your car.


The Billiken Drive-In, located on the southern end of Muldoon, was the first one in Anchorage. It opened in September 1963 and was owned by Ed and Marie Hanby.

The Sundowner Drive-In opened in 1969 and was located behind the Fireweed Theatre.

You may also remember a third, the Cinema 360 Drive-In located on the old Seward Highway at Huffman. It opened circa 1972.

The Sundowner drive-in, located behind the Fireweed indoor theater, had small heaters hanging on the post beside your car. The Billiken may have also offered heaters, but I don't remember that drive-in very well.

The heaters would blow warm air into your vehicle. If the heater was working. Occasionally, when you first turned them on, they would spew snow and ice into your car.

And let's not forget that cold trip to the concession stand. Here you were in your nice, warm car. And if you wanted a soda, popcorn, or the burgers and fries they sold, some poor soul had to volunteer to make the cold trek from the warmth of your car to the waiting concession stand.

But Alaskans are a hearty breed and aren't about to let anything like a little cold and snow keep them from an otherwise fun evening at a drive-in movie.

Sadly, drive-in theaters are a thing of the past. But in Anchorage, we all have memories of driving our cars and trucks into the theater and parking in one of those spaces next to a speaker post.

And near the end of the movie you would always hear this come over your car speaker – “the concession stand will close in 10 minutes. The concession stand will close in 10 minutes.”

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Anchorage Drive-In Theater

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Jun 02, 2024
Anchorage Movie Theaters
by: Joe Fournelle

Lived in Rogers Park 1950-58.

I remember movies at 4th Avenue Theatre, Empress, and Denali on 4th Avenue.

I didn't realize the Empress closed in the Fifties (my family left Alaska 1/1/59 before there were any Drive-In theaters).

I don't remember the movies I saw. Normal kid fare I'm sure (Lone Ranger and the like).

I do remember the 4th Avenue Theatre was a tough act to follow when it came to opulence and luxury.

There must have been a theater out toward the end of Spenard Road, maybe on International Airport Rd. in 1958 or before. I remember seeing "The Egg and I" there. Was there a theater out there before 1959 as I remember, or is my memory faulty? (I was 9 when we left. My world was still small and barely beginning to grow).

Does anybody else remember a theater in that vicinity before 1959?

A Note from Anchorage Memories

Yes Joe, the Center Theatre on Spenard Road was open from 1956 to 1964.

Apr 14, 2022
Cinema 360
by: Anonymous

I just read about people who had gone to the Cinema 360 Drive-In on the Seward Highway and Huffman.

When it first opened (late Summer 72) I worked there and had the task of making sure all the screens had a picture centered on them.

During the summer, the drive-in started later, when it was dark enough to see the movie.

In the winter time we had to go around and clean the screens with an anti-freeze mixture, so the picture could be seen.

One night, we came to work and found out that someone had broken into the concession stand area and went up into the projection room and messed up the optics. The picture would come out of the projector, and then it was directed to a platter that had 120 Fish-eye lenses to break the picture up and direct it to 120 screens in the parking area.

After the break-in, we had pictures going everywhere, and we only got half re-aligned the first night.

Cinema 360 was only in operation about 2 years.

These drive-ins started out in the Midwest.

Apr 06, 2021
Waited all Winter
by: Dennie Underwood

When I first arrived in Anchorage I was excited to see a movie at the 360 drive-in with all the screens.

So I waited for summer to come.

It came and it never got dark. I didn't realize that it stayed light all night.

So as winter neared I finally made it to the drive in. That was the strangest drive in ever.

I have never seen another 360 anywhere I have ever been. I can't remember, but I think it had 120 separate screens in a circle. Wow.

People don't believe me when I tell them about it.

I Loved Anchorage.

Jul 26, 2020
Billiken Drive-In
by: Anonymous

Remember so well taking my wife and two small children to the Billiken for a movie.

In the winter we pulled the small electric heater inside the car for warmth, and it worked great.

1968-69. Long time memories.

Nov 07, 2018
First time I saw KISS was at the Sundowner
by: Anonymous

I was in the military and a few of us guys went to the Sundowner Drive-in to see Savoy brown.

Never did we know we would be seeing KISS! Wow!

Savoy brown couldn't touch them! I still have the ticket. They aren't even on it! I wrote kiss on the back of my ticket. l am going to there end of the road tour in April 2019 in Florida.

Jun 21, 2018
Sundowner on Fireweed
by: Steve Tolley

The picture in the story is of the Sundowner on Fireweed. Behind the indoor Fireweed Theaters.

That was the location of the KISS concert in June 1974. I built the stage for that concert. KB Bettisworth (Alaska Sound Labs) did the sound and OZOSalad Lights (Steve and Chris Bacon, et al.) did the lights. It was promoted by Nebula productions.

A few local bands did the early warm-ups. Don't remember any but "Flight". And then it was Savoy Brown. They were good.

Then KISS late in the evening. This was KISS's first tour, and they were just learning the ropes. Gene Simmons mentioned in the TV show "When KISS Ruled the World) that some places/stages they played were dangerous. I knew who/where he was talking about. Read further below for that story.

The stage was a real problem as the movies were shown the night before and after the concert.

The stage was about 40 feet tall on the sides and back and blocked the movie screen. So it had to be put up and taken down in one day. It was the largest stage ever built for a concert in Alaska at that time.

KISS wanted the whole stage encased in black, so their pyrotechnics could be seen. We tried to wrap the whole stage in black visqueen.

What happened then was it caught the wind and started to tip the whole stage over. That was with about 30 people, all the PA and sound gear from all the bands.

There were people yelling, running, and jumping off that sucker.

We did not come up with a solution before the music started, so we had to just cut it and let it hang. It looked pretty bad. But since it was still daylight at 11PM all that black plastic did not help anyway.

I was also part of security, and we had a huge problem with people ramming cars into the fence behind the stage and people streaming through faster than we could catch them.

I was so exhausted I slept through most of KISS but woke up to hear a couple of tunes and then start ripping the whole thing down.

We were all very young and inexperienced, but it was fun. Did not make any money though!

BTW: The Billiken was on Muldoon road when it ran around through a few curves almost to Tudor. Then they changed Muldoon to run around one sweeping curve where it became Tudor.

Mar 06, 2017
by: Teena Malaski

It's the Sundowner.

I remember the Billikin in the middle of nowhere. Way out of town, ha ha Seward hwy. My dad told us we could not go there because all they showed were "adult" movies lol! It was near the old raceway and auction. Past Diamond

Dec 27, 2016
by: Keo

My first job was working the concession stand.

Dec 27, 2016
Winter Time at an Anchorage Drive-In Theater
by: Anonymous

Pretty sure it was the Sundowner on Fireweed...

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